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Posted: Wednesday March 30, 2011 12:56PM ; Updated: Wednesday March 30, 2011 5:47PM

Inside the Fiesta Bowl fiasco (cont.)

By Austin Murphy and Michael McKnight, SI.com

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Carte blanche

The BCS has asked the Fiesta Bowl to demonstrate why it should remain a BCS bowl.
The BCS has asked the Fiesta to demonstrate why it should remain a BCS bowl.
Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIRE

Bourbon Street is a tourist attraction in New Orleans, but it is also the name of a Phoenix strip club, a windowless, rectangular building just up the street from the Eastside Baptist Church, whose marquee last Monday night read Shock your Mom, Go to Church.

It came as a shock to many to learn that, on the night of Sept. 12 2008, the overtly religious Junker -- known for his contributions to Catholic causes -- racked up over $1,200 on his American Express card at Bourbon Street. "In all likelihood," the CEO told investigators, at least some of those charges were for private dances.

Rather than express contrition, rather than admit that it showed poor judgment to spend a charitable organization's money on strippers, Junker doubled down: "We are in the business where big strong athletes are known to attend these types of establishments," he told investigators. "It was important for us to visit and we certainly conducted business."

This brazenness runs throughout the report, which paints the portrait of a man whose self-importance is exceeded only by his sense of entitlement. To wit:

• In May 2005, Junker and a handful of bowl employees and board members flew to Pebble Beach, Calif., for a four-day bacchanal celebrating the CEO's 50th birthday. Total cost to the bowl: $33,189.

• Every year, the Fiesta Bowl spent tens of thousands of dollars to fly a group of state legislators -- often accompanied by their families -- to an out-of-state football game. The purpose of these trips? To "educate and provide information," former Board Chair Mike Allen told investigators, and help attendees "learn what college football is like." More plausible is the comment from Christine Martin, the bowl's Director of Team Services, who says of the trips, "They aren't necessary at all."

• While he couldn't always provide airfare, Junker was eager to provide elected officials with free tickets to marquee games. State Senator Russell Pearce was a frequent beneficiary, accepting over $5,000 in tickets from the bowl between 2007 and '08.

• Junker paid $110,000 at a 2003 charity auction to fly to Florida with former board member Chuck Johnson to play golf with Jack Nicklaus. In defending the trip, Junker told investigators that it was important for the bowl's relationship with the SEC.

• At the time of Junker's termination, the bowl was paying nearly $19,000 a year for Junker's memberships at four golf clubs, two of which are out of state: the Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, near Portland, Ore., and Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla. Why Oregon? The rising fortunes of the football programs at Oregon and Oregon State, Junker explained to investigators. (The report also notes that he has family in the state.) Why Stillwater? The report paraphrases Junker's reply: Because it was a "visible but reasonably inexpensive way to support Oklahoma State University, a critical supporter of the Fiesta Bowl in the Big 12 conference."

During their interviews, the report notes, none of the board members were aware that Junker had four golf memberships and that the bowl was paying for all four.

How does that happen? How was Junker able to keep Duane Woods and the rest of the board in the dark? How, for instance, does a $33,000 birthday celebration fail to raise red flags?

"I know there will be skeptics," Woods says, "but we all lead pretty busy lives."

Never again, promises Woods and his chastened colleagues, who on Tuesday unveiled reforms which, they hope, will earn back "the public trust and integrity."

Uncertain future

They don't need to worry about "the public" so much as a congenial, bespectacled gentleman in Kansas City. Bill Hancock, executive director of the BCS, wasted little time following the release of the Special Committee's report, distancing his organization from the now-tainted Fiesta Bowl.

In a statement expressing their "deep disappointment," Hancock and Graham Spanier, chair of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, tut-tutted that "parties contracted with the BCS" are expected to uphold "the highest standards. We do not wish to be associated with entities that believe otherwise."

The Fiesta Bowl's association with the BCS -- its status as a venue for future national championship games -- is now in doubt. The BCS has taken the unprecedented step of requiring the bowl "to demonstrate why it should remain a BCS bowl game."

If the Fiesta fails to do so and is demoted, which bowl might take its place? The clear leader at this point is the Cotton Bowl, which has long yearned to regain its status as a top-shelf bowl and now brings to the table a highly desirable venue, the palatial, two-year-old Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Such a fate would be a cruel blow to the many Fiesta bowl employees and the thousands of volunteers who've done nothing wrong.

It would also be a sad denouement to the career of Junker, who lifted this bowl from its humble beginnings but now threatens to drag it down with him.

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